As the ballots of the 2019 National South African elections are being counted, I am struck by the emotions playing around within me — especially as supporters of the parties I didn’t vote for make their voices heard on social and other media.
This morning in the gym I realised that elections present a rare opportunity to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
Elections have a way of revealing dividing lines between people groups. And, in contrast with countries that are culturally more homogeneous, the political dividing lines correlate well with cultural, socio-economic and resulting ideological lines. The revealing of these lines agitates us. How could you vote for them?! And these lines often reveal themselves very close to home; we find ourselves on different sides of different lines from friends, family, colleagues, etc.
My natural response is to assume that I’m right and other people respond merely in fear or stupidity or something worse. And this morning I was convicted by the realisation that I’m doing what everyone else does: assuming the polarising us-vs-them posture that elections inevitably bring about. And I felt invited to consider a different posture: one of loving my neighbour as I love myself.
In South Africa we live in a very complex stew of cultural, socio-economic and ideological realities. Our 11 official (and many unofficial) languages and our racial diversity. The deep divide between the have’s and the have-not’s, with its roots in a past some of us want to bury and others want to unearth to bring justice. The fact that we have a pursuit of free-market capitalism and socialism/communism within the same government, with influential businesses and political powers trying to move it more to the one way or the other. The combination of these factors mean that different people groups don’t listen to each other and never sit around the same proverbial table (not to mention literal ones). And the fact that our “news”, our media sources are so different, worsens the polarisation.
So, elections bring some of these lines to the light. The question is how you and I will respond. Will we retreat to the comfortable us-vs-them? Or will we dare to walk to the line, step over it and learn to see things from “their” perspective (whoever “they” are for you)? Loving your neighbour as yourself starts with daring to be an alongsider to your neighbour. I need to learn to see the world from the perspective of the people that voted for a party in ideological opposition to the one I voted for.
I believe something beautiful is happening in South Africa. But I also believe it will only be beautiful to those that have the eyes to see it as such. There are things that scare me, but my neighbour’s fears should be my fears and my neighbour’s pain should also be my pain. I have dreams, but my neighbour’s dreams should also fill my dreams and what my neighbour hopes and prays for, should be part of my own hopes and prayers. That’s love — not always agreeing, but teaching our hearts to listen to each other’s.
As the election results are revealed and their consequences start playing out, may we use this opportunity for introspection — and for learning to love the “other” more deeply.